It seems a universal phenomenon that, as soon as people start labelling a movie “the most shocking ever made”, we want to see it. For me, it doesn’t even need to come from the mouth of an established film critic – it was a YouTube comment with 20+ thumbs up and carrying the enticing all-caps declaration “OMG, MOST SOUL-SHATTERING MOVIES YOU’LL EVER SEE” that coaxed me into watching the August Underground trilogy. I will say upfront that I have no qualms about including spoilers in this review because if I could, I would physically stop you from watching these cinematic atrocities, but I’m warning you regardless because it’s the decent thing to do.
The three movies, entitled August Underground, August Underground’s Mordum and August Underground’s Penance, were directed by Fred Vogel of Pittsburgh-based horror production company Toetag Pictures. He also stars in them. The “plot” follows a man named Peter and his fellow serial killing friends on a murder spree. This doesn’t sound like too bad of a concept if you’re into this sort of thing (which I’m assuming you are, seeing as you read El Gore), but there are a few problems.
Firstly, these movies are shot with what one can only presume is a toaster. I get that it’s supposed to give off the realistic thrill of a found footage film and grainy pictures are an important factor in this equation, but there are limits. The horrible quality actually distracts you from what’s happening (which isn’t much in the first place) and will give even the most fervent fan of the genre a headache.
Then there’s the fact that this is a series of movies that does not give a flying fuck about you, and not in an oddly charming, refreshing way like Gaspar Noé’s works, for example. No, August Underground flat out does not care about entertaining you, but it doesn’t feel calculated or graceful. It is the cinematic equivalent of a bratty, stubborn child who explodes in a frantically repeated chorus of “fuck you, I’ll do whatever I want!” a few inches away from your face. Nothing happens in these films, nothing can be taken away. There’s gore, alright, but it takes “gore for the sake of gore” to a whole new plane of cheapness. There’s an extensive rape scene in August Underground’s Mordum in which Peter’s girlfriend forces one of the male victims to cut off his penis, then attempts to penetrate a distraught female victim with the severed genital. Yes, it is exactly as bad as it sounds. It’s not funny like Braindead or kind of thought-provoking like Cannibal Holocaust, it’s just utterly despicable on all counts. This scene, like all the others dripping in gratuitous sadism, doesn’t further the non-existent plot – it is mere torture porn. But I suppose there’s a market for that, too.
Excuse me if I’ve fallen into speaking of the trilogy as a singular entity, but honestly, I couldn’t tell the three movies apart (and neither could the friend I was watching them with.) All parts, which came out within a span of 6 years, have a similar structure, namely no structure at all. It blows my mind how there’s no down-time per se and you’re immersed in the “action” as soon as the films start, but those were still the most tediously boring 231 minutes I’ve ever attempted to sit through. Reaching this level of “dull” in exploitation flicks that feature such outrageous and creative violence takes real skill, so I’ll give the makers that, I guess.
I understand that, on top of being lamentably no-budget, the trilogy was intended to turn out as ugly and realistic as possible, but there’s a fine line between “creating a terrifyingly real found footage film on a low budget” and “literally shitting out a movie.” It’s safe to say that August Underground belongs to the latter category. Avoid at all costs.
This review was written by our new freelancer Anna!